Obama’s name to replace Jefferson Davis on Jackson elementary school

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A Jackson elementary school will change its name from one that honors Confederate leader Jefferson Davis (left) to one that honors former President Barack Obama.

An elementary school in Jackson named for the president of the Confederacy will be renamed after the nation’s first black president next year.

Davis IB Elementary School PTA president Janelle Jefferson told the Jackson Public Schools Board of Trustees at a meeting Tuesday night that the community voted to change the school’s name to Barack Obama Magnet IB Elementary School.

In September, the board approved a policy that gave the PTA and community the option to rename Jefferson Davis, George and Lee elementary schools. Davis is named after Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy.

The current board policy on naming schools states they must be named “for persons of good character and prominence who have made outstanding contributions to the school
system,” and a “facility named to honor a person shall not be renamed except for compelling reasons.”

“Jefferson Davis, although infamous in his own right, would probably not be too happy about a diverse school promoting the education of the very individuals he fought to keep enslaved being named after him,” Janelle Jefferson told the board during the public comment portion of the meeting.

During the 2016-17 school year, the last for which enrollment figures are available, JPS’ student population was 96 percent black.

Jefferson said the PTA solicited requests for names during a Sept. 21 meeting. Parents, students, and staff submitted ideas to the PTA via email. The Davis community had two weeks to submit their suggestions, and voted for their candidate of choice on Oct. 5 using paper ballots, she said.

Before the vote, students from each class at the school gave presentations on the name they most preferred.

“We really wanted to know what they thought,” Jefferson said. “They could relate to Barack Obama because of his achievements, because he looks like them.”

The PTA made the final decision on Oct. 6, she said.

Board counsel Dorian Turner said the new name will not go into effect until the 2018-19 school year.

The PTA and school district need to work out how and when to change signs, websites, and fundraise to put all the changes in place.

“You won’t see anything happen in terms of a formal name change until next year,” Turner told reporters after the meeting.  “They’ll spend the rest of this year doing the formal work to make it happen.”

Interim board president Camille Stutts-Simms said she approved of the change and described it as a “monumentous move.”